Belly Putter Ban Stirs Controversy Across Professional Golf

The trouble started with a long putt in Georgia late in 2011. Keegan Bradley, trying to claw back into contention at the PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club, holed a 40-foot putt to close the gap between himself and Jason Dufner. Bradley would ultimately overtake Dufner in a playoff for his maiden major championship victory. It was also the first major championship victory by a player using a non-conventional putter.

Bradley’s victory touched off a flurry of major championship triumphs by players using longer-than usual flatsticks. In June 2012, Webb Simpson scooped up his first major championship, wielding his belly putter over 72 holes to top the field at the U.S. Open at Olympic Club in San Francisco. A few weeks later, Ernie Els captured his fourth major championship and second Open Championship at Royal Lytham and St. Anne’s Golf Club using a belly putter of his own. The runner-up, Adam Scott, wields a split-grip long putter.

Speaking of Scott, he got his in April of 2013, breaking the curse against Australians in the Masters by winning in a playoff over 2009 champion and conventional putter user Angel Cabrera.

This flurry of major championship wins by players not using conventional length putters—four in the space of six majors from the end of 2011 through the beginning of 2013—snapped the United States Golf Association into action. After a period of research and deliberation, the USGA, along with the Royal & Ancient Golf Club (R&A) jointly decided to outlaw the use of putters that could be anchored against any part of the body except the arms, effective at the beginning of 2016.

The decision has been met with significantly divided opinion, with many more tradition-minded golfers favoring it and others—especially those who use anchored putters—opposed to varying degrees of vehemence. Some have spoken of taking up legal action against golf’s governing bodies on the grounds of the out-of-the-blue nature of the ban and an apparent dearth of statistical backup. It remains to be seen whether that cadre of players will follow through.

To that end, the PGA Tour has yet to formally declare itself in line or against the USGA and R&A. If the former, a ban in PGA Tour events could take effect earlier than the 2016 USGA start date (so declared because 2016 will be the next major revision of the USGA’s Rules of Golf).

This action also affects many everyday golfers who use non-traditional anchored putters, who will no doubt feel somewhat awkward about suddenly playing a game under different rules than the best players in the world. The next year or so will be interesting as debate will no doubt rage on about this decision.

posted 6/19/13

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